Patagonia, Arc’teryx, REI & Moosejaw Are Leaders with Distinct Positioning Strategies
Nine well known outdoor brands illustrate how a positioning strategy template varies by brand, even when in the same category.
For each brand, we’ll review the five interdependent pieces of the positioning strategy template:
- To target [specific audience],
- For [defined] frame of reference,
- “Outdoor Brand”
- is the [functional/emotional] point of differentiation
- Because [attributes] reason to believe
These nine brands emerged on lists of the best outdoor brands and several were also recognized for their brand positioning strategies.
The clear leader for positioning and branding is Patagonia. The other strong performers are:
- The North Face
- Outdoor Voices
- Outdoor Research
- L.L. Bean
We will review the positioning strategy template for each of these brands.
Several other brands have also been recognized leaders, like Yeti. We recently profiled them for a brand strategy case study.
Patagonia: Leading the way with environmental activism
Patagonia’s brand strategy and positioning are consistently identified as driving the $1 billion+ brand’s success. Patagonia’s core values are:
“build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to protect nature, not bound by convention.”
Patagonia Positioning Strategy Template
- Patagonia’s target is: “people who respect the outdoors as much as they love (it).”
- The frame of reference is outdoor clothing and equipment.
- The brand is Patagonia.
- The differentiation is its quality, ethically sourced products that support sustainability.
- Reasons to believe include the recycling option for consumers and that all sourcing is known.
A commonly identified marketing execution for the Patagonia brand is a 2011 print advertising campaign with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”
Because of the brand’s relatively high price points, its core customer is affluent. Patagonia Synchilla grey fleece vests are frequently worn in white collar urban work environments, suggesting the brand attracts Urban Athletes in the outdoor psychographic segmentation.
Arc’teryx: “Always a better way”
High end brand Arc’teryx touts innovation:
“founded on the idea that there is always a better way. No matter how successful or innovative a product is, we believe that each design and process can be further refined.”
One source estimates Arc’teryx revenues at $206 million.
Arc’teryx Positioning Strategy Template
- Arc’teryx’s target is “mountain enthusiasts, especially climbers, hikers and skiers.”
- The frame of reference is performance outdoor clothing and gear.
- The brand is Arc’teryx.
- The differentiation is “products that are innovative and deliver an elevated experience.”
- Reasons to believe are “gear that lasts and endures the wildest conditions.”
Arc’teryx digital marketing showcases the design process, celebrating the
“designers, perfectionists, makers and out-door lovers who ‘work behind the scenes.’”
Of the outdoor customer segmentation psychographic customer segments, Arc’teryx consumer target most closely aligns with The Achiever who seeks professional level gear. The Achiever is an attractive target for high-end performance outdoor and active brands like Arc’teryx. Through its sub-brand, Veilance, Arc’teryx also attracts the Urban Athletes outdoors customer segment.
The North Face: Modern day explorer adventure gear
The North Face brand was bought by VF Corp in 2000 for $155 million. VF Corporation’s fiscal 2022 revenue is projected at approximately $12 billion, and The North Face is considered a “big four” brand for VF Corp, with projected revenues of $4 billion by fiscal 2024.
The brand’s mission is to:
“provide the best gear for our athletes and modern day explorer, support the preservation of the outdoors and inspire a global movement of exploration.”
The North Face Positioning Strategy Template
- The core target is “adventure seeking extreme athletes and explorers, including hikers, climbers, snowboarders, skiers or mountaineers.”
- The frame of reference is outdoor clothing and gear.
- The brand is The North Face.
- The brand’s differentiation includes ruggedness and durability
- with a reason to believe of a lifetime warranty.
Over time, The North Face has expanded its consumer base, with specific initiatives to draw in additional customer targets for growth. For instance, the brand identified four different customer territories for growth that align with the outdoor customer segmentation psychographic segments.
The North Face smaller boutiques “address Urban Exploration” in a “very local, curated and personal way” for the Urban Athletes segment. In contrast, its largest business is “equipping athletes to tackle adventures,” a target that aligns with The Achiever segment (similar to Arc’teryx).
The North Face achieved 23% growth in fiscal 2021, and 56% digital growth, reportedly driven by outdoor category tailwinds, innovation success, a strong first responder program, new loyalty program customers, and a Gucci collaboration earned media campaign.
Outdoor Voices: freeing fitness from performance
Unlike the brands that stress athletes and performance, Outdoor Voices appeals directly to a consumer who likes being active but not defined as an athlete. “We believe in freeing fitness from performance starts with having fun and generating endorphins”. The Modern Voices fitness consumer is celebrated for “doing things.”
Outdoor Voices Positioning Strategy Template
- The target is the “modern athleisure enthusiast.”
- The frame of reference is activewear.
- The brand is Outdoor Voices.
- The differentiation is “comfort, flexibility and style for everyday fitness.”
- The reason to believe is shape-sculpting materials and fashion forward choices.
While Outdoor Voices offers products for both genders, the core consumer base is a fitness-focused female. This consumer segment is not clearly found in the psychographic outdoor segmentation, and it is not the same older, less active demographic as The Athleisurist from that segmentation. With $100 million in sales, the brand has carved out a valuable and distinct target.
REI: Practical and convenient choices for members
As a member-owned outdoor co-op, REI delivers dividends back to its members and invests profits back into the outdoor community. For example, in 2020, REI’s sales were $2.75 billion. From this revenue, the organization distributed member dividends of $112 million and non-profit partner investments of $6 million.
REI Positioning Strategy Template
- The target is: outdoor enthusiasts who actively share their love of the outdoors with others.
- The frame of reference is gear, clothing and footwear for outdoor activities.
- The brand is REI.
- The point of differentiation is a one-stop shopping for quality products and services at a fair price.
- The reason to believe Is the co-op dividend and REI branded products that are a practical choice since they are offer quality at a good price.
In addition to REI branded products, there are also a selection of products from other outdoor brands.
The brand’s marketing is rooted in “an outdoor life is a life well lived.” Marketing campaigns have included “Opt Outside” and “Force of Nature.”
Among the outdoor psychographic segments, the closest fit is the Outdoor Native, who enjoys the experience of spending time outdoors, and prioritizes versatility, durability and functionality in their product choices.
Columbia: Affordable activewear
The Columbia Sportswear company has a brand portfolio, with the Columbia brand by far the largest brand at $1.98 billion in sales for 2020. Other portfolio brands include SOREL ($294 million), prAna ($132 million) and Mountain Hardwear ($80 million). The Columbia brand reported sales declines of 20% in 2020 due to “lower wholesale and DTC brick & mortar sales,” despite e-commerce growth of 39%.
Columbia Positioning Strategy Template
- The target is active people.
- The frame of reference is active lifestyle apparel, footwear, accessories and equipment.
- The brand is Columbia.
- The point of differentiation is affordable quality.
- The reason to believe is the product’s pricing and functionality (e.g., warmth).
Columbia supports its brand with selective marketing, such as the 5th annual Star Wars collection, featuring the Mandalorian. The brand also touts innovation, for example with its Omni-Heat product line.
The brand’s affordability and warmth comes through to its consumers and reviewers:
“While I LOVE both brands (The North Face and Columbia), to me it comes down to the best prices and who is having deals. I frequently check this Columbia discount page where there is almost always a jacket or fleece on sale. Since Columbia is typically cheaper anyway but still super warm. That’s my overall recommendation.”
Of the outdoor psychographic customer segments, the Columbia target is most aligned with the Outdoor Native (similar to REI).
Outdoor Research: (research based) functionality is in the brand name
Outdoor Research (OR) has estimated revenues of $50-85 million, and like many outdoor brands, it enlists brand ambassadors. These ambassadors are “community builders and elite athletes.” Outdoor Research Films, such as Escaladora also “tell stories of real people, community members, ambassadors for change, and non-profit partners.”
Outdoor Research Positioning Strategy Template
- The Outdoor Research target is “devoted to exploring their outdoor passions and challenging themselves with the mountains, waters and desserts of the planet”.
- The frame of reference is technical apparel and accessories.
- The brand is Outdoor Research.
- The point of differentiation is function-forward products with purpose-driven features.
- The reason to believe is the Infinite Guarantee warranty.
In the psychographic outdoor segmentation, the Outdoor Research consumer target contains elements of The Achiever, who wants professional level gear and the best products on the market and also of the Outdoor Native, who is motivated by enjoyment of spending time outdoors.
L.L. Bean: A more approachable and accessible outdoor lifestyle
Ending 2020 revenues with revenues of $1.59 billion, the L.L. Bean brand grew 5% compared with 2019. The L.L.Bean brand positions itself as approachable and accessible, avoiding the “extreme,” bloody-knuckle, top-of-the-mountain perception approach favored by Arc’teryx and also the fashion-oriented space of Outdoor Voices.
L.L. Bean Positioning Strategy Template
- L.L.Bean’s target consumer is the “Outdoor Family Enthusiast” who enjoys spending time outdoors, particularly with their family.
- The frame of reference is quality outdoor apparel and gear where outdoors includes the backyard or a walk outside at lunchtime.
- The brand is L.L. Bean.
- The point of differentiation is approachability and accessibility.
- The reason to believe is L.L.Bean’s legendary customer service, the one-year money back guarantee, and the 24x7x365, never closed 22-,000 foot flagship store that welcomes three million visitors each year.
L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Family Enthusiast consumer target is a hybrid of two of the outdoor psychographic segments: the Outdoor Native who enjoys time outdoors, particularly with family, and also Aspirational Core, who want to be outdoorsy but participate less regularly.
I will always have a fond spot for L.L. Bean because one of the brand’s waterproof suitcases kept my son’s clothing and gear completely dry when his campsite flooded.
Moosejaw: bringing humor to the at-times overly-serious outdoors category
Owned by Walmart since 2018, Moosejaw is estimated to have 2020 revenues of $73 million. In May 2020, Walmart and Moosejaw announced the LITHIC and Allforth brands with affordable price points. The brand is known for its humorous and irreverent emails and experiential marketing.
Moosejaw Positioning Strategy Template
- Their target is Millennial and Gen Z outdoors lovers.
- The frame of reference is equipment, apparel and footwear.
- The brand is Moosejaw (for the retailer), though they sell many outdoor brands.
- The point of differentiation is good value (good prices on good quality products).
- The reasons to believe include price matching and MJ rewards.
Moosejaw’s consumer target appears to overlap with the Aspirational Core psychographic outdoors segment, who skew young and single and want to be outdoorsy.
Comparing the different positioning strategy templates shows that several brands, including Arc’teryx, The North Face and Patagonia focus on high-end performance markets, each with its own distinctive twist. Similarly, there are several brands offering affordable, good quality products, including Columbia, L.L. Bean, Moosejaw and REI. Among these brands, Outdoor Voices is more unique for its fitness and fashion focus, though there are clearly other brands in the fashion and fitness space (not necessarily with the word Outdoors in their name).